Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center canvassed technology experts in the summer of 2019 to gain their insights about the potential future effects of people’s use of technology on democracy. Overall, 979 technology innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers, and activists responded to the following query:
I want to propose that we use this opportunity to reaffirm what is fundamental: our commitment to a global and open internet for all. In the age of the always-on internet, the idea of suddenly flicking connectivity off like a switch sounds dystopian. But for so many people in so many places this is becoming a reality. 21 countries shut down the internet 122 times in 2019 alone. That means there were more internet shutdowns in 2019 than ever before. These shutdowns are not just the instruments of authoritarian regimes, they have been used by democracies trying to tackle problems, too.
As we enter the third decade of the 21st century—the digital century—it is time for the public interest to reassert itself. Thus far, the digital entrepreneurs have been making the rules about the digital economy. Early in this decade, We the People must reassert a visible hand on the tiller of digital activity. Will public policy intervene to protect personal privacy? Can our leaders act to preserve the idea of a competition-based economy?
Granular surveillance is still new. But some experts argue the window to define our cultural values around tracking citizens may be closing. In the United States, and across the world, any protester who brings a phone to a public demonstration is tracked and that person’s presence at the event is duly recorded in commercial datasets. At the same time, political parties are beginning to collect and purchase phone location for voter persuasion.
- Social media sites have emerged as a go-to platform for connecting with others, finding news and engaging politically.
- Around the world and in the US, social media has become a key tool for activists, as well as those aligned against them.
- Smartphones have altered the way many Americans go online.
- Growth in mobile and social media use has sparked debates about the impact of screen time on America’s youth – and others.
- Data privacy and surveillance have become major concerns in the post-Snowden era.
How will 2020 – the first online census – offer new challenges? Historically, the census has always been completed using paper forms. But in 2020, the census will be conducted primarily online for the first time. While there will still be options to respond with a paper form or via phone, most homes will receive an invitation to complete the census online.
Since the time of the early advertising-supported newspapers, economic incentive has worked to bring people together around a common set of shared information. Maximizing ad revenue meant offending as few readers as possible by at least attempting a balanced presentation of the facts. The search for balance began to retreat with the arrival of cable television, but the economic model of maximizing revenue by maximizing reach still governed. The targeting capability of social media algorithms, however, has extinguished the traditional economic model.
With the next census, for the first time ever, respondents will be able to fill out their questionnaires online. This marks a major transition for the count, which guides the apportionment of seats in Congress and the disbursement of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds. Giving Americans the option to fill out the 2020 census by laptop or smartphone means dragging Article 1, Section 2 of the US Constitution into the 21st century.
Knight Foundation Invests $3.5 Million in Research to Inform the National Debate on Internet Governance and Policy
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has announced more than $3.5 million in funding to support new, independent research into issues at the forefront of national tech policy debates.